This summer, my son attended a two-week “starter camp” at the preschool he will enter this fall. I’m not exactly sure where or how it started, but whenever we would get within 5 to 6 blocks of the school, Preston would start peppering me with questions. “Mama am I going to be happy? Am I going to be happy at Cambridge Ellis Mama?” And so the questions went on and on and on.
At first, I thought, as a psychologist, I was exceptionally well trained for this. Naturally, I responded with more questions: “Do you want to be happy at Cambridge Ellis? Were you happy yesterday?” My brilliance was lost on my three-year-old son, and he asked more and more and more questions in return.
By my third morning drop-off, I changed my tune. When the barrage of questions began, I retorted: “Happiness is a decision. Happiness is a Discipline. Your Happiness is up to you buddy.” I enjoyed a momentary silence while he contemplated these thoughts.
From Decision to Discipline
The more I sat with my response, the more I could feel the truth in my words. But like many things in life — love, patience, health, integrity, happiness — I believe that virtues are first a decision and second a discipline.
Choosing to love when life is peachy is easy. Loving after the honeymoon is a decision and then a discipline. Someone once said to me, “You are not really married until you have both had the stomach flu, simultaneously.”
Patience is a grand virtue, and everyday, I am offered opportunities to revisit my decision to prioritize patience, my genetic deficiencies in patience, and my undying competitiveness that tries to strangle incompetence around me.
Health is a core value, a vital energy source, and a desired state too. Every time I face a cider belly donut, a pint of ice cream or plate of fries, I must re-affirm my decision to lead a healthy life. We all choose to be fit, to sleep and to hydrate.
Integrity is a decision. If we are lucky, we consciously decide what we believe; what matters most to us. And, then we must be disciplined in putting attention to our actions. How am I living? As part of our 5 year wedding anniversary, we made a piece of art with Wordle.net that includes words that are important to our family, some of them: Gratitude, Integrity, Love, Persistence, Growth and others. Every day we try to speak about these with our kids. Seeing them helps us live them. The more we speak these words, the more we become them.
What’s the Secret?
Most things we value are decisions that then take discipline to see through. The key is that once you make the decision, you need to “hack it” to make living it as easy as possible. In other words, you need to minimize the amount of willpower you need to be disciplined in your action.
To start, build structures of support or systems to reduce your reliance on willpower. Willpower fatigues over time. If you decide health is important, take action to not let cider belly donuts and ice cream into your life. If they aren’t in your home, you won’t have to decide not to eat them!
Okay, but this brings us back to the bigger question — the one facing young Preston as he enters preschool. As I suggested, “Happiness is up to you buddy.” The real question is how do we choose happiness and keep choosing happiness everyday — even in the face of adversity.
Our son started pre-school in September. The jury is still out as to whether or not he likes school. The decks are stack, either way, he will know that whether he likes school or not is his decision.